NYC schools vaccine mandate starts next week; community worries about rollout

Reopening Schools

NEW YORK — The countdown is on to next Monday, when all employees of the New York City Department of Education will have to prove that they’ve gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine — or face losing their jobs the next day.  

That would happen Tuesday, and because the city won’t know until then what its needs are for replacing teachers, school safety officers, cafeteria workers, and other employees who haven’t proven vaccination, many people anticipate problems come Tuesday morning.

Oliver Olwyn is a school social worker. He said that vaccination rates at his school are high, but how things will play out early next week are still unclear.

“Let’s hope there’ll be staff here, a lot of staff here to help,” he said. “The kids really need it. They’re so far behind.”

Yvonne Garcia is a parent. She said that she hoped the situation wouldn’t be unstable for her 6th and 8th grade daughters at the beginning of next week.

“I have some confidence in teachers,” she said of faculty getting vaccinated or facing dismissal. “A lot of people want to keep their jobs, obviously.”

The UFT, the teachers’ union, has said that well over 90% of the city’s teachers are vaccinated. However, when it comes to other DOE employees, the rates are lower.  

Based on information provided by the DOE, the UFT, and DC37, the union representing school service workers, currently about 83% of the DOE’s 135,000 employees are vaccinated.

That percentage could rise over the weekend and Monday evening, but at the current rate, some 23,000 employees would be unvaccinated and disqualified from working when Tuesday morning comes around. 

Michael Mulgrew, the UFT president, said unvaccinated numbers that high could leave the nation’s largest school system in chaos. He said that his members have sent a clear message.

“This is crazy,” he said, “what [the DOE is] doing, without a plan.” 

He and Mark Cannizzaro, the head of the union that represents school principals, asked on Friday for the city to extend the vaccination deadline beyond Monday and to come up with a more detailed plan to replace employees who ask for exemptions from vaccinations.

For his part, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he doesn’t think an extension or further planning is needed. He said during his weekly public radio appearance that both the city and DOE employees have had a long ramping up period.

“There’s been plenty of time for teachers, staff to get vaccinated,” the mayor said. ” A lot’s going to happen between now and Monday, but beyond that, we are ready.”

Some doubt was cast on that point of view by David Bloomfield, a professor of education policy at the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College.

“We don’t know if it’s going to be kind of small breakers on shore, or a tsunami,” he said about the teacher and staff absences on Tuesday morning that will be the result of unvaccinated employees not being allowed to work.

“Teachers aren’t interchangeable,” Bloomfield continued.  “A kindergarten teacher can’t teach high school, and a high school teacher can’t teach kindergarten.”

He said that the situation on Tuesday morning could be very problematic, since it’s unclear if all employees’ vaccination information will be known by then.

Mulgrew, the teachers’ union president, pointed out that employees will be required to enter their proof of vaccination by Monday evening into a data portal in order to be cleared to work in schools on Tuesday morning.

He said that he wasn’t confident that that process would be problem free.

“It’s a DOE computer program,” Mulgrew said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

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